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Family rescues aging German shepherd that was about to be put down

Trish Bauer was scrolling on Instagram one sleepless night in December when she came across a post from a dog rescue page that made her pause.

A 12-year-old, 90-pound German shepherd “with kind eyes” appeared in a video, and the dog named Wilbur was going to be euthanized if he didn’t find a home soon.

Bauer, who had given birth to a stillborn baby in February 2022, felt a pang when she read the text below the dog in the video: “I need someone to save me right now or else I’ll be put to sleep.”

“Something about his eyes just called to me,” Bauer said. “He was so defeated, and I knew that same feeling, like life had just given up on him.”

Without hesitation, she commented on the post by FurryTail Endings, offering to foster Wilbur for a day in her San Bernardino home, if other offers fell through. “I told myself I was freaking crazy for even commenting because I was terrified of dogs,” Bauer said.

The next morning, she woke up to an Instagram message from the rescue that said all the other offers had fallen through, and if no one picked up the German shepherd, he’d be put down in 30 minutes.

Bauer and her very surprised 10-year-old daughter Lilly were soon on their way to the Western Riverside County/City Animal Shelter in Jurupa Valley to pick up Wilbur.

“I literally took a cat leash to get this 90-pound dog,” Bauer said. “My daughter really thought I lost my mind.”

Josh Bauer and his wife, Trish, and their 10-year-old daughter Lilly walk Cooper around at Wildwood Park. Trish and Lilly say they used to be terrified of dogs before adopting Cooper.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Lilly was born with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing sarcoma. She was cancer-free just before her first birthday, but it took several years for her immune system to recover and allow her to be around animals.

Within the last few years, the family has fostered more than 250 kittens, but a 90-pound dog was a whole different animal.

When they arrived at the shelter, they were told that Wilbur was three dogs away from being put down. Wilbur walked over to Lilly, gently put his head in her hands and licked her.

“I love dogs, but I’ve always been scared of them,” Lilly said. “But with [him], it’s just like a whole ‘nother world. It’s like he’s from another dimension. He’s old, but he has such a great and big heart.”

The Bauers left the shelter with Wilbur — and five other puppies that were soon adopted.

“Something about his eyes just called to me. He was so defeated, and I knew that same feeling, like life had just given up on him.”

— Trish Bauer

After his stay at the Bauer home, Wilbur was sent to a new foster family that had three other dogs. Just a day later, on Christmas Day, Bauer received a call that one of the dogs at Wilbur’s new home was being aggressive toward him.

Bauer and her husband, Josh Bauer, decided to go get Wilbur. They renamed him Cooper and made him a permanent member of the family.

“We knew that we could not let this dog be put down just because nobody had loved him,” Trish Bauer said.

Three Bauer family members rub a German shepherd's belly at the park.

“Days when I’m depressed or sad thinking about the past year, he’s always there to cheer me up,” Josh Bauer says of Cooper, the German shepherd the family rescued.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

But the difficulties didn’t end there. A veterinarian found a cancerous tumor in Cooper’s neck. And just like that, the Bauers were again supporting a loved one fighting cancer.

“Most people would be terrified, but for me, it was the biggest sign that this dog was meant to be in our lives,” Trish Bauer said. “For the last 10 years, all that our family has known is how to fight cancer. Without us agreeing to fight for him and be his family, he had no chance.”

Cooper was not healthy enough for surgery. The vets found markings on his mouth, teeth and paws, as if he had been in a lot of fights, Bauer said. He might have been on the streets for about five years. The vets said he would need two months to gain 10 pounds and become stronger.

Cooper began accompanying Bauer, a photographer, to Laguna Beach, Joshua Tree and snowy mountains. Three weeks and 20 pounds later, he was cleared for surgery.

After the procedure, Cooper, with his 42 stitches, “shrugged himself off the leash from the tech and ran all the way down the hall to us,” Bauer said.

“In that moment, we all knew that he was more than a rescue,” she added.

A month later, the vet called to tell the family that Cooper was cancer-free. The Bauers officially adopted Cooper on Feb. 11, exactly one year after Trish Bauer lost her baby daughter, Millie.

“Days when I’m depressed or sad thinking about the past year, he’s always there to cheer me up,” Josh Bauer said of Cooper. “He’s the best friend I’ve needed, and it makes me want to get out of the house, take him on walks and just live every day to its fullest.”

The Bauers are expecting to add another member to the family: a “miracle” baby boy.

Trish Bauer said she’s about three months pregnant — and very lucky. Doctors discovered two blood clots in her brain, just in time to prevent a stroke.

She’s on bed rest right now. She’s OK with that as Cooper has become her right-hand man, cuddling the foster kittens while her health improves.

“Now he has the start to a beautiful remainder of his life,” Bauer said.

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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